Wynn Pulls Out of Aqueduct Casino Project

The move leaves five bidding groups contending for the rights to run 4,500 slots

Las Vegas casino executive Steve Wynn has pulled out of the running for the long-stalled Aqueduct casino project, sources said Nov. 4. The decision was later confirmed by Wynn’s company.

The surprising move by Wynn, who was considered one of the finalists, leaves five bidding groups contending for the exclusive rights to run 4,500 slots at the Queens racetrack for the next 30 years. Officials close to Wynn declined to say why the casino executive dropped out.

“We are confident that the state of New York will find a qualified operator to meet its needs at Aqueduct,’’ a Wynn spokesman said. “We would like to thank our associates and community leaders for all their assistance in crafting our proposal.’’

The decision also comes days after the top counsel for Gov. David Paterson told the bidders–at a time when a final selection decision was considered imminent--that to now be considered they must agree to provide $200 million to the state within 30 days of signing a contract. The state is facing a $3.2 billion deficit and is looking to quickly raise as much money as possible from a variety of sources.

Wynn had proposed a splashy, Las Vegas-style casino operation at the track, complete with hotel, restaurants, and retail shops. His plan called for $300 million in payments, over time, to the state, in return for the contract.

Wynn personally lobbied top state officials, taking his case directly to Paterson weeks ago to pitch his proposal.

The departure of Wynn leaves a number of key combatants remaining, including a partnership led by developer SL Green and Hard Rock Entertainment; another whose partners include Navegante Group of Las Vegas and a company tied to politically connected Rev. Floyd Flake of Queens; a group led by Buffalo-based Delaware North, which already runs several VLT racetrack casinos in New York; and Penn National Gaming, whose $250 million upfront bid was the largest of the groups vying.

Also in the running is a partnership that includes developer R. Donahue Peebles and MGM Mirage.

Word of Wynn's departure comes a week after Wynn told a conference call of investors about his concerns about retrenchment in the U.S. casino industry. State officials voiced concerns privately that Wynn was retreating from his Aqueduct commitment, a concern Wynn officials at the time dismissed as unfounded.

Delaware North, meanwhile, said it is proceeding with its bid for Aqueduct and that it can meet the terms of the Paterson administration to pay the state $200 million within a month of signing the final contract for Aqueduct.

“We have no problem meeting the terms outlined in the letter regarding a minimum upfront payment. Our reply will provide confirmation of our ability to meet the state’s terms and will underscore the strengths of our bid,’’ said William Bissett, president of Delaware North Companies’ Gaming & Entertainment subsidiary.